Today I’m scratching beneath the surface and bringing you 15 unusual things to do in Edinburgh…
Whenever you visit Edinburgh you’re always going to be spoiled for choice when it comes to deciding what to do. Explore the Old Town, soak up some of its rich history, enjoy the sunshine in Princes Street Gardens, or wander up to the spectacular Edinburgh Castle and hear the sound of the 1 o’clock gun up close.
Why should you care about unusual things to do in Edinburgh?
However, that really only scratches the surface when it comes to things to do in Edinburgh. There’s so much more to this beautiful city than the main tourist circuit, and that’s what I wanted to bring to life in this post on unusual things to do in Edinburgh. Because if you’re looking for the weird, wacky, the wonderful, and even the wild west, this city has it in spades. More on the wild west in Edinburgh later on.
This this blog post aims to spotlight to those lesser known things to do in the city. So I’m probably not going to be including what you’d usually find on the top ten lists of things to do in Edinburgh. And even if you are familiar with the ‘burgh, I’m hoping to throw in a few curve balls. But enough of me waffling – let’s get on with it!
Here are my favourite unusual things to do in Edinburgh…
1) Visit Maison Du Moggy
Like cats? Then you will love cat café Maison du Moggy just off the Grassmarket in city. I’m not sure if it counts as one of the unusual things to do in Edinburgh really, because it’s basically just cake, coffee and cats. Not so out of the ordinary really, right? However, it’s definitely a cat lover’s paradise – and then some.
The interior is super cute and Instagram-friendly. Expect pastel walls, fairy lights, and wicker egg chairs, with lots of little nooks and crannies for the cats to hide out in. You’ll look up and see one of the Persian cats floating like a fluffy white cloud on one of the cat ladders above your head or curled up in a box on a shelf.
But let’s get onto the most important thing: the cats! There’s a big variety of cats to hang out with. A Maine Coone, Bengal cats, British shorthair, Persians, and even a Sphinx. The Sphinx cat was called Elodie and was such a big personality – she even had a set of cute outfits to stop her getting cold – as Sphinxes don’t have fur they get chilly!
Oh, and they also serve an amazing selection of tea, coffee and cake. I ordered the hazelnut latte which was the perfect sugary winter warmer. Having seen some of the cakes they had on offer I would love to go back to order one. You’ve got to treat yourself, right?
Want to read my full review of Maison Du Moggy? Read it here
2) Paint pottery at Doodles
Looking for something a little bit more creative to do in Edinburgh? Well, why not wander along to pottery studio Doodles where you can get your hands dirty with some pottery painting? This one is definitely up there as one of the more unusual things to do in Edinburgh, but it’s also one of my faves. It’s something I did with my new work colleagues recently and it was great fun. It’s a little bit different to your usual drinks and nibbles kind of night out.
Everything is provided for you so you just have to show up. You choose what you want to paint from a variety of options – plates, cups, bowls, and even cactus shaped jewellery holders. Then you get a quick tutorial, and you’re on your way. The best part is that it’s BYOB so you can bring a couple of gin and tonics to loosen up and get those creative juices flowing.
So how do you get to Doodles? Well, it’s not in the usual tourist districts, but it’s not too far away either. Doodles is actually located in Marchmont, which is an upmarket area located just next to the Meadows. I also used to live just around the corner when I was a student. But, basically, cross the Meadows, walk for another five minutes and you’re there.
3) Edinburgh Chihuahua Café
I talked about the cat café earlier but another unusual thing to do in Edinburgh is to visit the chihuahua café. I’m more of a cat person in general but I do have a soft spot for chihuahuas. Llittle teacup dogs with big saucer-like eyes, what’s not to like?! The dogs at the café are all adorable. My favourite, however, was a little taupe coloured one. Its really name is Elsa but because of its colour my sister and I ended up nicknaming it Mushroom!
The sessions last for 50 minutes and you can also order tea, coffee, and cake. The tea I ordered came in a cute little cup and saucer which just added to the overall charm. The owners are also brilliant and will tell you little anecdotes about the dogs throughout.
Edinburgh Chihuahua Café is also just off Princes Street so it’s really easy to get to!
Find out more on their website here
4) Climb Arthur’s Seat
You may have seen Arthur’s Seat, but have you ever thought about climbing it?
Edinburgh’s famous volcanic rock has had a starring role in so many movies that you may already be familiar with it. It’s played a part in One Day starring Anna Hathaway. It even made an appearance in the amazing Eurovison movie with Will Ferrell. Arthur’s Seat is actually an ancient volcano which is the main peak of the group of hills in the city.
The easiest way to get to Arthur’s Seat is to simply walk down to the bottom of the Royal Mile. However, if you want to do it like us then make sure you head to a bakery first and enjoy a cupcake before you make your assent. We picked up coffee and cake at the nearby Red Kite bakery in Meadowbank, an up-and-coming area in Edinburgh that you make not have heard of. It’s also where my sister lives! I chose a carrot cake cupcake from the bakery which was delicious, and the perfect fuel for an energetic climb up Arthur’s Seat.
One quick thing. I was wearing trainers when we set off on our walk but I still managed to slip as we made our way down from the Sailsbury Crags. So I’d just say, take care, and dress appropriately when you make the climb.
5) Climb the Scott Monument
I can basically start this one with the same line as above. You may have seen the Scott Monument but have you ever thought about coming it? Probably not, right? That’s why I’m counting it as one of the more unusual things to do in Edinburgh.
You’re probably familiar with the Scott Monument already. It’s one of the most iconic sights on the Edinburgh skyline. You can’t see a photograph of Princes Street without its dark silhouette spiking into the skyline, all ornate detail and simplicity at the same time.
The monument is dedicated to Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott, who’s most famous for his novels Rob Roy and Waverley. The latter of which is where the railway station in the city gets its name from. The monument is one of the largest dedicated to a writer in the world.
The day I climbed the Scott Monument in Edinburgh sticks in my mind, but not actually for very good reasons because I ended up losing my purse! However, I did enjoy seeing the Scott Monument up close so it’s definitely worth doing. One last thing that’s worth mentioning is that the stairs are squeeze! It’s a really narrow, winding staircase so if you don’t like small spaces – or heights – then it’s best to give this one a miss.
6) Discover the Wild West in Morningside
This is definitely up there as one of the most unusual things to do in Edinburgh!
If I told you there was a wild west ghost town tucked away into a hidden corner of Morningside, one of the more well-to-do areas of Edinburgh, you might not believe me. But there is, and it looks like it’s been pulled from the set of a John Wayne movie.
The reason it’s actually there is a pretty strange one. It was created by a south western furniture company back in the 90s. It comprises a jail, a cantina, and general store. It’s not somewhere you can spend loads of time but going to hunt it out feels like a bit of an adventure. Dig out those cowboy boots and you’ll fit right in! Yee-hah!
And seeing as I’ve directed you to walked all the way up to Morningside I’m going to through in a couple of other recommendations. The charity shops are work checking out – they tick the boxes for both quantity and quality. Finally, I would recommend stopping by Honeycomb for brunch. Their French toast is one of the best I’ve ever had.
Read more about things to do in Morningside and Bruntsfield here
7) Go on a gin cruise
You can go about Edinburgh quite merrily without even realising that there’s a canal there. But there is! You’ll find the Union Canal in the Fountainbridge area of the city, in the west end. It starts in the city centre but goes all the way out to Glasgow – yes, really! It’s a perfect commuter route. In fact, a house I once looked at in Linlithgow was only an hour’s cycle along the canal from the city centre, although it would probably take near me nearly two!
Anyway, we’ve talked about the canal, now onto the gin cruise along it! I can’t claim to know much about this beforehand. I simply saw an advert on Facebook, thought it sounded amazing, and quickly snapped up two tickets. The gin cruises in Edinburgh are run by Summerhall Drinks Lab, who also do plenty of other alcohol themed nights in the city. How does a rum and doughnuts evening or a gin festival sound?
The cruise itself was brilliant. You’re presented with five different gin cocktails (and a sample of each of the gins – neat) during the cruise. The staff really brought each of the gins to life through their storytelling, and guided everyone to enthusiastically sniff out the different flavours in the gin, from characteristic juniper, to citruses and heather.
Lasting two hours in total, I thought it would be a struggle to get through five drinks in this time but, unsurprisingly, they went down quicker with each sample. The cruise costs £39.95 per person so it’s not the cheapest activity I’ve ever done, but it really was good fun!
Find out more on the Summerhall Drinks Lab website
8) Watch a rugby match at Murrayfield
Some people may try to pretend that golf is the national sport of Scotland. And while there are a disproportionate amount of golf courses near where I grew up (Fife, home of St Andrews’ world famous Old Course) I can’t pretend I have any interest in golf whatsoever. If I had to pick my favourite Scottish sports I would say football, tennis, and rugby!
My parents are big rugby fans and that’s why I’d recommend heading along to a rugby match at Murrayfield if you ever get a chance. It’s the Scottish equivalent of going to see the Knicks in NYC! I’ve been to the Six Nations Championships at Murrayfield a few times and it’s always a great day out. The tournament is in January/February. That means it’s always cold but 1) there’s always a great atmosphere and 2) you can drink at rugby matches!
If you want a little bit of Scottish charm then you’ll enjoy the lone piper who pipes the national anthem from the rooftop of Murrayfield – it’s always pretty cool to see!
Read my full post on going to a rugby match here!
9) Hang out at George Square
George Square is one of the best areas to hang out in Edinburgh during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Forget the Royal Mile or anywhere closer to the centre – that’s for the day trippers. If you want to have a proper Edinburgh festival experience then George Square is where it’s at. I’ve had so many great afternoons here, chilling in the sunshine between shows.
Nestled in the heart of the university district, you’ll find picnic benches, bars, and a great selection of food trucks to tempt you with drip-down-your-clothes street food. I had fried dumplings here recently, but my favourite was Wisconsin-style cheese curds that came with a spicy buffalo sauce and ranch dressing… and an ice cold can of strawberry Rekorderling cider (which I ordered separately). It doesn’t get much better than that!
George Square is only a stone’s throw from festival venues Potterow, Teviot, and a handful of others. If you want to get flyered for your next show then this is the place to come. I’ve also seen packs of silent disco-ers dancing around here, which is another unusual thing to do in Edinburgh if you’re an extrovert who loves dancing in public. Not me I’m afraid!
Oh, and just for clarification, I’m calling this an unusual thing to do in Edinburgh because you can only do it for four weeks of the year when the festival is on in August! Read more on the Fringe here!
10) Wander around a graveyard
Wandering around creepy graveyards is one of the more unusual things to do in Edinburgh, yes. But in a city that’s packed for of gruesome goings on – and even some true stories of grave robbers – it’s not that unusual. In fact, it’s probably one of the best ways of getting in touch with Edinburgh’s rich history.
You may or may not know the story of Greyfriars’s Bobby. The story of the loyal and courageous dog is pretty legendary in the city. According to the story, the Skye Terrier guarded the grave of his late owner for over 14 years way back in the 19th century. That grave is found in Greyfriars’s Kirkyard, which has its own spooky charm.
I would recommend visiting Greyfriars’s Kirkyard first of all, where the grave of Bobby’s owner is clearly marked out. There are also distinctive skull and crossbow skull carvings dotted throughout the graveyard which make for an ever so slightly chilling experience – especially if you visit just as the light is fading like we did. Next, cross the street to see the statue of Greyfriars’s Bobby, which is located on the street of George IV Bridge.
It’s said that you can rub the nose of the statue of Bobby for luck. If you want, head for a drink in the pub of the same name just across the road and ease those nerves!
If you’re looking for more spooky things to do in Edinburgh have a read of my post – if you dare!
11) Explore Cockburn Street
I never see a lot of chat about Cockburn Street in any of the blogs I read about Edinburgh. Bloggers are all over the cobbles and colourful buildings of Victoria Street, which slopes charmingly down into the Grassmarket. However, it seems to me the Cockburn Street is often overlooked. However, in my opinion it’s just as pretty.
Let’s get some things out of the way first of all. It’s pronounced Co-burn Street, rather than Cock-burn Street. Pronounce it like that and you’ll give the game away you’re a tourist. It curves down from the Royal Mile and is chocablock with boutiques, restaurants, and some of the most instagrammable places I’ve seen in a while.
Vintage shop Armstrong’s is an Edinburgh institution – rifle through their rails of preloved items and vintage treasures. Cookie and Pie in the Sky are both old favourites of mine. The latter has a real hipster vibe whereas the former has cute clothes and some really lovely homeware items. I was recently stopped dead by some of the cushions in the window.
A bit further up is the pastel pink hues and floral draped exterior of Laila. This is the Instagram spot where you’ll find pink waffles and unicorn lattes!
12) Eat lunch at The Ivy
Let’s just throw a little bit of fanciness into the mix shall we?
If you’re feeling a little fancy then swish on up to one of the swankiest names in the city, The Ivy on the Square. The original Ivy in London is synonymous with old school glamour. Everyone from Madonna to Princes Diana dined there over the years.
While you might think The Ivy on the Square might be really posh and pretentious, it’s really not. It has boutique restaurant vibes written all over it, but it’s certainly not somewhere you can only rock to in your Sunday best – there isn’t even a dress code. I had a delicious brunch of eggs benny and cocktails when I was here, all accompanied by super friendly service.
You can read my full review of the Ivy on the Square in Edinburgh here
13) Eat bagels at Portobello beach
When you’re looking for unusual things to do in Edinburgh then you may need to step outside of the city centre and start exploring the surrounding areas – such as the seaside suburb of the city, Portobello.
If you’re not familiar with Portobello (or Porty as its known to locals) then you’re also missing out. It’s located on the east of Edinburgh on the coast. It’s a charming seaside area with restaurants, cafes, and a huge beach that seems to stretch out for miles. Grab some food, pitch up on the beach, and enjoy the salty sea air while you eat.
So what sort of food should you get in Portobello? If you haven’t heard of Bross Bagels then you haven’t lived. Maybe a little bit of hyperbole there, but only a little. I was recently introduced to Bross Bagels by my lovely twin sister who lives in Edinburgh and is always a little bit more plugged into what’s good.
There was a queue at Bross Bagels when we were there and part of me did question why we were standing in a queue when there are a million other places to go. But 1) the end result was more than worth it and 2) it gave me plenty of time to go through the menu in detail and decide what I wanted. There is so much choice and everything looks delicious!
In the end I went for the Dirty Rachel. Turkey, swiss cheese, bacon (I went for vegan bacon), crispy onions, and sauerkraut. It also comes with Mama’s Bross Rock Sauce. I had no idea what this was but it’s bright yellow and tastes delicious – try it if you can!
14) Wander around Stockbridge Market
The Stockbridge area of Edinburgh is located on the north of the city. It’s often described as having a village feel. It’s also known to be posh with a capital P. Expect to see elegant Victorian and Georgian houses, well-heeled locals, and sackloads of Edinburgh charm.
The Stockbridge Market is open every Sunday on Saunders Street in Stockbridge. Head along to pick up artisanal bread, meat, cheese, charcuterie, fruit and vegetables – as well as things like jams and chutneys. You can also buy street food, cakes, rainbow coloured macarons, and coffee. There are also original artwork and handcrafted pieces to buy.
I loved just moseying around and seeing what was on offer at the various stalls. One of my favourite stalls was one called Clarks’ Emporium, which sold steampunk-style lamps made out of glass bottles. My favourite was this Kraken one, complete with a hand-crafted version of the mythical squid wrapped around the glass. Not cheap, but pretty cool!
15) Walk along the Water of Leith
I’m counting this as one of the more unusual things to do in Edinburgh as you can visit or even live in Edinburgh for years but never actually make it down to the Water of Leith. I only went for the first time recently.
The Water of Leith is peaceful, tranquil, and a welcome change of pace from the bustle of the city. It describes the main river in Edinburgh which flows through the centre and into the Port of Leith. It then flows in the Firth of Forth. It’s not to be confused with the canal, which is where I took the lovely gin cruise I mentioned earlier!
You can see the Water of Leith at various points in Edinburgh. We walked along it during a mosey into Stockbridge, but you can also see it Inverleith, Canonmills, Warriston, and the Dean Village. Arguably the Dean Village is the best place to see the water, where flows through a deep ravine spanned by the Dean Bridge and brings alllll the drama.
There’s reportedly a lot of wildlife in the river, including brown trout, minnows, and even eels! Actually, when we were walking along the river bank I remember passing two gentlemen, one of whom was regaling the other about the eel he’d seen! Out of the water, roe deer, badgers, and otters are also occasionally seen, so keep your eyes peeled.
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